Article: Leadership on course: How golf helps in raising standards


Leadership on course: How golf helps in raising standards

Golf can enable individuals to push the boundaries while continuously equipping themselves with new standards of performance

Golf is one sport that lends itself easily to leadership lessons. It is an individual game that allows unhurried conversations in an open, uninhibited environment. No wonder it is the preferred game of business leaders, globally, to build networks and relationships outside of closed normal office environs.

Learning and development is an advanced science but how it is delivered is more of an art. Training is commonly about skills, and development connects growth, advancement and improvement at a broader level. Formal programs aimed at development, often rely on case studies and simulations, which by definition imply they are hypothetical and dated. While simulation based learning is relevant in certain contexts, when we look at leadership development, there is a felt-need to push the boundaries and explore new frontiers for real-time learning. Leaders today need less of artificial input-feeds and more learning in a live setting to create internalization.

The experiential learning from the game of golf allows space for introspection and enables sharing of insights as the practice & play sessions act as an opportunity to take the learning onto the course for real-time application. Golf allows participants to experience the power of new insights that often enable them to push the boundaries while continuously equipping themselves with ‘more’ and ‘next’ to create new standards of performance.

The objective of integrating golf as a leadership development tool is anchored on many gelling points. One of them is to seek and give expression to the ‘child’ in each of us. In the formality of adult learning, many leadership programs tend to overlook the inner child that seeks outlet and expression. Facilitators therefore ‘tap’ into the ‘child in us’ to encourage experimentation, risk-taking, creativity and discovering new ways of doing things. This can help reduce inhibitions, and increase free expression, allowing for a lot more experience sharing and invaluable insights. Golf, as an individual sport, is ideal to showcase ambivalence. It is easy to see how limitations and capabilities co-exist in the same person; how challenges and opportunities go together; how skills, technique, strategy, stance, experience, innovation are all there, but come crunch time, the player has no one, and nothing else to blame – not the club, caddy or the course. Leaders and golfers know that once they step onto the green, once the leadership stance is taken, the only thing that is available is ‘I’.
As a leadership development program, golf enables enhanced self-awareness and provides varied insights into leadership fundamentals like authenticity and integrity. Played over solitary periods, golf, as in life, constantly tests the conscious, for example, between playing by the rules and taking shortcuts. Understanding the real purpose, knowing why we do what we do, and the desire to re-chart the course of life, our work and the game, is the inflexion point for any change, growth and development. And all change or growth begins with the self, the big ‘I’.

Another takeaway for leaders from golf is the power of positivity. Often when a golfer has a bad shot and senses a let down by the game, he/she looks around, takes in some fresh air, hears the wind whistling through the trees and reminds themselves that they are doing something they really love! Similarly, leaders should pause, motivate themselves, and enthuse their teams to believing in themselves to tackle any challenges that may come their way.

There is a lot that leaders can learn from golf as it focuses on renewing the body of knowledge to proactively prepare leaders for the ‘next’ challenges. In this light, ‘Golf & I’ is an experiential learning program which is an innovation by SHRM India to use newer settings for ‘learning and development’ that provides leaders a platform for self-reflection and development.

G. Ravindran is CEO and MD of SHRM India, as well as Member of the Global Leadership Team of SHRM responsible for the MEA and Asia Pacific Region

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Topics: Leadership

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